During my lifelong stint of adventuring, I’ve rafted my way through giant waterfalls in Costa Rica, paddled through a torrential downpour in North Carolina and taken family-friendly rides in Tennessee. All good fun. However, I’ve never, ever thought to hop aboard a zodiac at 10 p.m. and raft until nearly 1 a.m. — by the light of the full moon. On the Ottawa River. In 50-degree weather. Now, that’s something new.
For a cold-weather wimp like me, it was a bit daunting. So as my group of seven checks in at the Calumet Island base camp on a crisp September evening, I’m still iffy about the whole thing. The sun has long since vanished. In its place, a cool breeze, the light of the full moon and goosebumps all over. While I squirm my way into a hefty wetsuit — in an open-air dressing room — I think: Man, the things I will do for a good story.
By the time I get to the school bus, which will soon shuttle us 15 minutes down the gravel road, I am warm and ready to hit the kinetic waters. Plus, with the tunes blaring from the loudspeakers, one can’t help but grin and lip synch every word. I’m talking Bon Jovi. Vanilla Ice. Catchy French tunes like “Le Zigeuzon Zinzon.” All the while, Mexican tour guide, Oscar, shows off his latest dance moves down the aisle. We are off to a good start.
On the river, we initiate the adventure smoothly with a long, tame eastward drift. Through the habitat of moose, beavers and deer. The rapids we’ll soon encounter won’t be treacherous by any means — friendly class I and II. Our guide, and owner of the company, Martin Bertrand, a merry-eyed, fun-loving guy, explains the history of the area — complete with a rumored werewolf siting.
“It’s such a different thing to experience nature at night,” he says. “We don’t do it often enough.”
I agree wholeheartedly. Everything looks different — the rapids look soft and silky. The moon has a hazy orange ring surrounding it. And there’s a certain calmness in between rapids that I rarely experience in daily life.
Soon enough, we plunge through the first rapid with ease. Then, we beach the 14-foot raft so a few members of our group can bodysurf the rapids. For me, though, I’ll happily sit this challenge out because: Uh, guys, I come from a land of constant heat and humidity where we don’t willfully hop into water below 70 degrees.
Next, we paddle upstream.
“Down!” Martin yells.
We scramble in unison and squat on the floor. Paddles up. Instantly drenched. And surprisingly, my teeth don’t even chatter. Instead, it’s really refreshing. And it triggers a case of the uncontrollable giggles and squeals.
In synch, we propel our way toward a pitstop — a small, but raging waterfall. Out of the raft, we all squish-squash our way toward the wall of whitewater for a photo op.
Back in the raft. Another quick jolt of rapids. The trip is nearly over now. I do my best to soak in all the moonlight wonderfulness. The brief pockets of silence. The camaraderie.
Back at the campsite, we peel off our wetsuits and scurry to the jacuzzi. That’s right. The night continues until the wee hours with some local beer and stories of our soul-inspiring adventure. I feel contented. Close to nature. Far from everything else. Just the way I like it.
Interested in rafting? Check out this Horizon X day trip that boast class IV and V rapids! Fun stuff!
12 Cadieux Road, L’Île-du-Grand-Calumet
Cost: $130.00 per person, includes full-moon rafting trip, river equipment, two nights camping, wetsuits, breakfast.
For more outlandish excursions, visit www.tourismeoutaouais.com.